Agnes Scott Professor to Read from New Collection of Pakistani Poetry

Friday, February 11, 2011

Waqas Khwaja, professor of English at Agnes Scott, will read from his new book, Modern Poetry of Pakistan, and other works at the Savannah Book Festival Saturday, Feb. 19 at 1:30 p.m. at the Jepson Boardroom, Telfair Museum, Savannah, Ga.
Waqas Khwaja
The first anthology of its kind to appear in English, Modern Poetry of Pakistan brings together many poetic traditions indigenous to Pakistan, collecting the work of 42 poets with 148 poems spanning 100 years translated from seven major languages, six of them regional (Baluchi, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Pashto, Seraiki and Sindhi) and one national (Urdu).

Khwaja said he hopes the poems provide a window for English-speaking readers to experience not only the beauty and passion of the poems, but similarities and differences between themselves and those living in Pakistan.

“These are powerful poems, very different from the kind of poetry you read in the West. I’m interested in building a bridge to these poets. A very small percentage of the population of Pakistan speaks English— we need to know texts in Pakistan’s local languages as well. What are those who speak indigenous languages thinking and feeling? This is important for cross-cultural understanding,” Khwaja said.

Khwaja oversaw the translation of the poems, with the help of 14 other translators, and translated many of them himself.

“Translation itself is a difficult art, but with poetry it is virtually impossible,” Khwaja said. “If anyone claims to have done a superb job of translating poetry, I’d be very skeptical. I have pretty much worked within those very limitations.”

“Translations between closely related languages, such as French and Italian, may be somewhat more successful than between languages that are widely dissimilar in grammar, structure, vocabulary and socio-cultural provenance,” Khwaja said. “Moreover, the allusive field invoked by non-European languages is often alien to Western and American reading experiences.”

While rhyme is frequently impossible to preserve, Khwaja said, he and other translators worked to preserve three key elements of each poem. The lineation, or line by line structure, is quite faithfully maintained in the translations. So are the original images and metaphors, instead of an attempt to reduce them to some simplistic singular meaning. And finally, a serious attempt has been made to retain the rhythm of the original poems.

“The temper and tenor of Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi, Urdu and Pashto writers are all different from one another, but there is much that is shared between them as well—a religio-cultural history that goes back seven thousand years as well as a deep and enriching influence from Persian poetic tradition,” Khwaja said. This shared history is crucial to understanding the sensibilities that energize all the work from these many languages.”

The Savannah Book Festival is a non-profit organization that hosts an annual, weekend-long festival of the written and spoken word. The festival, Feb. 18-20, remains free and open to the public at Telfair Square, in the Historic District of Savannah, Ga.

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To hear Khwaja discuss his book and Pakistani poetry at several events in New York earlier this year, please visit:

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.